Culture / Film

Paul Mescal as young Shakespeare is about to be our Roman Empire

Ever since the pandemic bound studio producers, actors and directors to their homes, books have maintained their status as a hot commodity in Hollywood. There's something deeply satisfying about seeing your favourite novel reimagined for on screen consumption. It's why TikTok is saturated with fan-castings for The Secret History and the uproar is deafening when filmmakers get it wrong. The latest book to wind up down this route is Maggie O'Farrell's Hamnet, which is set to be marshalled into a film by Oscar-winning director of Nomadland, Chloé Zhao. All the details, below.


What is Hamnet about?

As with the Irish novelist's most recent work of fiction The Marriage Portrait, Hamnet instantly landed a spot on the New York Times bestsellers list when it was published in 2020. It was one of those books that took pride of place in your local book shop's window – hell, even my own bespectacled bookseller tried to slip it into my stack at checkout. The point is, it was a success. Given that it centred the forgotten son of William Shakespeare (of whom the book is titled after – and who inspired the name for Hamlet) and his wife Anne Hathaway, this was a given.

Hamnet strides into historical fiction territory, exercising great empathy to reimagine a personal tragedy of one of history's most recognised figures; the loss of The Bard's 11-year-old son to the plague, and the way this shaped his universally beloved play, Hamlet, which would be written shortly after. Through the grief of Shakespeare's wife Anne, affectionately known as Agnes, O'Farrell explores the consequences of this loss on her two remaining daughters, one of which was Hamnet's fraternal twin, on art, and on her marriage to William.

"That book – it’s just devastating. I can’t wait," Mescal said in a recent interview about the role. "If I told a younger version of myself that this would be [shooting] this year, I wouldn’t believe it."


Who is involved in the project?

As mentioned, Chloé Zhao has been named director of Hamnet. Sam Mendes was previously rumoured to helm the project but will step on as producer. Meanwhile, O'Farrell will adapt the script. As for who will star? Tom Holland was originally attached to the film as its lead, however it's been confirmed that Irish hunk Paul Mescal has secured the role of Billy Shakespeare. Meanwhile, fellow Irish actor Jessie Buckley will step on as Agnes Shakespeare.

It's not the first time Jessie Buckley and Paul Mescal have acted, if not alongside, in the same proximity as each other. The two featured in Maggie Gyllenhaal's adaptation of The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante, where Mescal played Dakota Johnson's secret love interest and Olivia Colman an older version of Buckley's character.


What about a trailer or release date?

The film is still in early stages of production and casting, so we don't have any official timelines for its release just yet. But we'll be sure to keep you updated here as we know more.


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Cover image via IMDb.